Se7en Discovers The Irma Stern Museum…

I have been sharing some of Cape Town’s best kept secrets for a while now, especially when there is a bookish connection that folks can enjoy with it. Recently we shared a book about Able Seaman Just Nuisance, from Simonstown and do we have a gem for you today. The Story of Irma Stern, A Passionate Vision by Katherine Graham and illustrated by Suné Raubenheimer. Irma Stern was one of South Africa’s leading Expressionist artists from the last century and the Irma Stern Museum is one of Cape Town’s best kept secrets… that we have just discovered and we are going to tell you about it.


Introducing Irma Stern

Irma Stern was born in a small South African town, called Schweizer-Reneke in 1894. Her father was the town shopkeeper and her parents were of Jewish-German descent. Throughout her childhood she and her family lived a life of travel… never lingering in South Africa or in Germany for too long. When she grew up, traveling became part of who she was and she loved nothing better than going for long trips and finding inspiration en route.

In Germany she attended school and in South Africa she had a tutor, affectionately referred to as Dok. (Short for doctor). Irma was to grow up and become one of the most prolific and popular of South African artists of all time. During World War I, while her family were staying in Germany, she was able to train at an art school and get equipped as an artist… the career she had chosen for herself, in era before women actually chose careers.

Not only did she survive the First World War, but the Second World War as well… her passion for travel kept her enthusiastic and inspired her to create more and more colourful art. She traveled throughout Southern Africa and between the Wars she returned to Cape Town from Germany… where she and her family rented a house in Breda Street.

We recently stayed close by to this house while we were visiting in the city and of course, we had to take a walk and have a look at the house as it is now… a huge Victorian house with a magnificent Oak Tree and a lush garden. Irma was living with her parents in the city, but later bought her own house in Rosebank, called the Firs, where she lived for the rest of her life. The Firs was really a base, where she could gather herself, create art in her studio, hold dinner parties and then set off on an adventure again. Her home, the Firs, has become the Irma Stern Museum, and is well worth a visit.
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A Passionate Vision, the Story of Irma Stern

The recent book published about the life of Irma Stern is a fairly easy reading book aimed at primary and middle school level readers. It is the perfect introduction to the life and times of this famous artist, written specifically for young people. It describes her life from her birth in 1894 in Schweizer-Reneke, to her passing in 1966, due to complications of diabetes.

She led an interesting and adventurous life, and she lived in difficult times. She survived two world wars. Even though she came from a wealthy family, and her work became extremely popular all over the world, (even the Queen Mother bought one of her paintings), she had few true friends and a miserable marriage that eventually ended. Short chapters and richly illustrated in black and white, and the centre of the book contains a handful of plates of her artwork… showing the vibrant colours she used as well her brush strokes.

It appears that she was a prolific journaler and we really enjoyed that the author of the book, Katherine Graham, was able to weave of excerpts from her diaries and letters to and from Irma’s friends, into the book. It is a lovely way to get a vivid picture of someone who lived in the past. This biography does bring the artist to life, we get a good picture of who she was and her work. The book makes great reading for interest sake, and would be useful as a reference work if you were looking for South African school resources as well.

Interestingly enough we have been reading the very popular book Rebel Girls as a family, for the last while and it was unanimously decided that Irma Stern would make the most perfect addition to the Rebel Girl collection. She showed determination and grit to follow her calling… her art was not welcomed into the world… it took years of hard work to be recognised as the artist that she knew she was. She was an explorer, before it was considered popular, and long before the world was ready for Africa, she was ready to showcase the Africa that she discovered and the people of Africa, with her portraits, to the world.

A Visit to the Irma Stern Museum

We really got so into the book that we decided that we would make a visit to the museum and were we in for a delightful surprise. The Irma Stern Museum is definitely one of Cape Town’s hidden treasures and should be on every one who wants to visit an Art Gallery in Cape Town’s Must Visit List…
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First impressions count and the magical gardens literally blew us away. You can just see the artist’s vibrant life exploding in the lush garden that is genuinely a hidden secret and cannot even be imagined from the road at all.
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I have been along this road so many times in my life, to and from UCT Campus, so many times and had no idea that this beautiful spot was just there waiting to be discovered.
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The winding driveway lead to the most incredible hidden gem…

Really just the most wonderful place to visit, for the garden alone…
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The garden is full of interesting little corners, places to play and stretch your legs…

Hide-and-seek opportunities abound, there are corners to draw in and be inspired.
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Not to mention sunny stoeps that look so good for tea parties or reading on. This garden is entirely magical…

Stepping into a Magical World

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Not only was Irma Stern a prolific artist, but throughout her travels she collected interesting artefacts…

She travelled extensively throughout Africa and Europe, and her home reflects this… with interesting bits of artwork, statues and ceramics. All sorts of intriguing things to look at…

Statues and sculptures abound…

Even the doors…
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The lounge area is a burst of joyful colour and we sat in front of the wonderful wall of portraits, while our guide chatted to us about who was who and what was what.

Obviously the colours are out of this world…

And we were inspired to draw:
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From the lounge we went to take a closer look at her studio…

And her desk…
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And pallette…

And a quick stop at her dining room table…

While the downstairs section of the museum is kept as a walk through to look at Irma Stern’s life and art…

The upstairs section is quite different…
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It is used as gallery to showcase different visiting artists…


Quick Facts

To visit the museum, you can head over to the Irma Stern Museum, here… for details. Make sure to ask when you book about the off street parking, which makes it a totally easy and do-able outing. Really this is an outing that we thought would take an hour or two and we could have spent an entire day there. Truly a haven in the heart of a city and a lovely place to visit that for some reason is off the mad and frenzied tourist route. This museum is the perfect place to introduce your children to an art gallery… without having to worry about crowds, and overbearing security. Our guide, Mary was lovely… she chatted with us and gave us a few pointers to think about before leaving us to our own devices and encouraging us to explore on our own.
This is image is an affiliate link to the book, where it is available on Amazon.

And the book, has its own website here. You can buy copies online from Amazon, or at the Art Gallery.


Flickr Gallery

Click on the image below to see more photographs from our visit.
The Irma Stern Museum

We would like to thank the author, Katherine Graham, for giving us a copy of her book and inspiring us to visit the Irma Stern Museum. This is not a sponsored post and all opinions are as usual entirely our own.

6 Replies to “Se7en Discovers The Irma Stern Museum…”

  1. Hay Debbie, what a lovely experience, the museum was just wonderful… but we would never have understood Irma Stern so well without the book to go with it. What a delight to find a book and an outing that compliment each other so very well. And what an incredible life Irma Stern lived… Sending you all the love.

  2. Dear Se7en, what a pleasure to find your review! The Vine School commissioned the book, Katherine Graham wrote it, and now we find an old friend reviewing it. I’m really glad you enjoyed it, and were inspired to visit the museum. That’s what was intended… to relate to the artist and appreciate her work.

  3. Hi Botho, I am going to think about that… I do know lots of local homeschoolers on instagram, but I am going to have to think a little bit about blogs!!! Thanks so much for stopping by….

  4. Hay Friends at the Vine School, Thanks you so much for getting this lovely project up and rolling. It is a lovely idea – really enjoyed showcasing our South African heritage. Have a fantastic day…

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